Composting - Fostering a Culture of Sustainability

Katherine Messer

Authors:  Katherine Messer, Ann C. Wilkie

Faculty Mentor:  Ann C. Wilkie

College:  College of Agricultural and Life Sciences


According to the most recent Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, landfills are the third-largest contributors of methane emissions, largely due to decomposing organic matter. These organic wastes and carbon-based materials can be recycled and turned into a nutrient-rich soil amendment by composting. By diverting organic waste from landfills, composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on commercial fertilizers. A 2014 National Waste & Recycling Association survey found that 72% of Americans do not compost their food waste and 62% would not support an increase in the cost of their waste and recycling service. This project’s purpose was to identify trends, if any, in people’s perception of climate change and their involvement in composting and gardening. This relationship was quantified using a Qualtrics survey and delivered to UF and Santa Fe Students using social media platforms, Facebook and GroupMe. The survey questions were categorized into three groups: demographics, knowledge of climate change, and perception of composting. It was anticipated that participants exposed to a community centered on sustainable living were more likely to engage in practices like composting. Further analysis of this data can be used to strategically expand community gardens and foster a culture of waste reduction.

Poster Pitch

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10 Responses
  1. Destiny Cardentey

    I love your topic! I’ve been considering composting myself. I think there’s a lack of education on what composting is, how to compost and its benefits, among other sustainable actions individuals can take.

    1. Katie Messer

      Hi Destiny,
      That honestly was the most surprising result of my survey. Being around composting for so long I did not realize how many people were excited about the idea without really knowing how or where they could get involved in composting.

  2. Lars Bjorndal

    This is a very interesting topic and a nice poster.
    I saw that one of the results indicated that those who rated themselves as most informed about climate change issues also had the strongest opinions about efforts to address it. In relation to this, I am wondering how this group would rank their attitude towards the climate, are they mostly optimistic or pessimistic?

    1. Katie Messer

      Hi Lars!
      I saw that the more informed participants were generally pessimistic, but this goes for the entire population as well. There was no statistical analysis performed specifically on the most informed group’s attitude towards efforts to address climate change since I wanted to focus on the participant’s involvement in composting, but based on my time working with the data I would say say that the participants who considered themselves “Passive” on their level of knowledge were the most optimistic out of the three groups.

  3. Macartney Ewing

    Great poster, and very interesting! You mention in your video that those that participate in composting have a more negative outlook on climate change efforts than those that do not. What an interesting finding, as I would expect those that participate in more activities would feel more optimistic about the many things that they can do to help! I was also surprised to see from your poster that only 25% of those surveyed at UF and Santa Fe recycle, especially considering how accessible I consider recycling to be on UF’s campus and in many surrounding apartment complexes.

    Your video was well articulated and professional. Great job!

    1. Katie Messer

      Hi Macartney,

      I was also surprised. In spite of the University of Florida’s wide spread green efforts, it seems that awareness of places like the Student Composting Cooperative and UF’s recycling programs are still pretty low. Hopefully this survey shows us how much awareness can effect our outlook.

  4. This project gave a great insight into the students’ view of climate change and actions taken to address the effects of climate change.
    In an effort to find a relationship, if any, between involvement in composting and a positive perception of global climate change efforts, several other factors were found to be influences in a participant’s perceived optimist.
    Across the data of the people considered “Promoters” when asked to rank their optimism concerning climate change measures, similar knowledge bases and involvement levels were found. These optimists were all involved in green practices besides composting and considered themselves “passively informed” on climate change.
    While the composting participants had the largest number of optimists, their average ranking for optimism was still lower than non-composters.
    Participants across the board were actually strikingly negative when it came to their perception of global climate change action. These findings demonstrate that current climate change measure may not be enough for the general public, or at least the student population of this survey. So it cannot be said that composters were more optimistic on average, but involvement was generally related to being more informed and having more hope.
    Special thanks to Dr. Wilkie of the Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology lab, this research could not have been conducted without her guidance.